The Knights of the Fish

This has been a challenging translation. It is still very much a work in progress, but I wanted to share it. Part of the challenge will not appear until the next installation, and that is the use of echoing parts of words which create interesting word play. Another challenge is the historical aspects of the story. The allusions and settings may not be immediately familiar to all readers. Let me give a very brief historical note to place the story and its characters. 

The epoch of the knights errant ended centuries before this story was put on the page. Its theme places the story around the 15th century in Spain, during which Spain was under Arab or Moorish rule. The Iberian Peninsula was called al-Andalus in classical Arabic and the area that is now Spain was occupied by a mixed group of Muslim (Berbers/Imazighen and Arabs) and Christian people and, as you may have guessed, they did not always get along. Spanish Knights of legend were always Christian noblemen, or brave soldiers who had gained their status through gallant deeds. Their counterparts, the villains, were usually not Christian. That is the case in this story as well, with these brave young knights and the Christians of Madrid. However, since it specifically names the city of Madrid, and the fountain in the Puerta del Sol, it is more likely to be from around the 17th century, since that fountain was not finished until 1625. This story of knight errantry is reminiscent of those stories which drove Don Quijote to his madness and desire to right the wrongs of the world, with the first novel from 1605 and the second in 1615. Knight errantry itself was out of fashion, but the novel suggests that the stories were certainly still popularly read.  

This is the first half of the story I have translated. Interestingly, it could have stopped here, with a happily ever after, but the story continues on for another 5 pages, including more daring deeds and overcoming obstacles, an enchanted castle, the most wicked enchantress (a Berber), and as the classic trope requires, rescuing beautiful damsels. 

Please enjoy the first installment of The Knights of the Fish!


            Once upon a time and time again there was a poor cobbler whose work earned himnothing, and so he decided to buy a net and set out as a fisherman. He fishedfor many days and pulled out nothing buy crabs and old shoes, more than he hadseen in all his days as a cobbler. Finally, he thought, “Today is the last dayI fish. If I pull in another empty net, I shall go and hang myself.” He tossedthe nets and this time they pulled in Saint Peter’s[1]fish. Satisfied, the cobbler had in his hand the lovely fish said this (who itseemed was not quite as reserved as those of his species tend to be), “Take meto your house; cut me into eight pieces and cook me with salt and pepper,cinnamon and clove, laurel leaves and mint leaves. Feed two pieces to yourwife, two to your mare, two to your dog, and the other two you will plant inyour garden.” From this something eminently antiparliamentary is deduced andconfirmed (we are sorry that we could not hide it), and it is that those whospeak little inspire more faith and confidence in their words than those whospeak a lot.

            Nine months later his wife gave birth to two boys, his mare two colts, his dog two puppies, and in the garden two lances sprouted which flowered with two bluecoats of arms with a silver fish in the center.

            All prospered marvelously in good company and love, in a way that after time passed, two gallant dashing riders sat atop two proud steeds, followed by twobrave hounds, with two straight lances, and two brilliant shields.

            The brothers were so extremely similar that they were called The Double Knight; and each wanting, as was just, to maintain his individuality, they decided to part ways so each would stand out in his own right, which is why, after a long hug, one rode into the West Wind and theother into the East Wind.

            After a few days journey the first arrived to Madrid and found the royal town mixing the drops of their bitter tears with the pure sweet waters of their dear Manzanares River. Everyone was crying, even the Mariblanca de la Puerta del Sol[2]. Our dashing lad asked what was the cause for such desolation and discovered that every year a fierce dragon, son of an infernal old woman, took a beautiful young lady and that year misfortunate luck had chosen the princess, the perfectly noble and beauteous daughter of the king.

By Louis Meunier – Unknown, Public Domain, wikimedia

            The knight immediately asked where he would find the princess and they answered that a quarter of a league away she awaited the beast who would show at high noon to take his prisoner.

            The young man went to verify the place indicated and found the princess in a sea of tears and shaking head to toe.

            “Run!” yelled the princess to the Knight of the Fish when she saw him coming. “Run, reckless fellow, the monster is coming and sire, if he sees you, poor sire!”  

            “I will not go,” answered the bizarre knight, “because I have come to save you, madam.”

            “Save me? How, for, it is not possible?”

            “There, we shall see,” answered the valiant champion. “Are there Germans here?”

            “Yes sir,” responded the princess, surprizedly, “why ever do you ask?”

            “You shall see.”

            And, galloping off he headed toward the inconsolable town, returning shortly after with an immense mirror which he had purchased in a German shop. He leaned itagainst a tree trunk, covered it with princess’s veil, and put her in front of it, telling her that when the beast was close she should pull back the veil andhide behind the mirror. Having said this, he placed himself behind a nearbyfence.

            It did not take long for the fierce dragon to appear and slowly approach the beauty, eyeing her with such insolence and such nerve that all he needed was a monocle to match other less frightening underhanded characters. Once he was close, the princess, according to the plans laid by the Knight of the Fish, pulled away the veil; and passing behind the mirror, disappeared from the amorous gaze of the fierce dragon who was left stupefied finding those desirous eyes gazing upon a dragon just like him. He knit his brown together; his rival did the same. His eyes became a brilliant red like two rubies; his adversary did not hesitate to follow suit. With this, his fury swelled and he bristled his scales like a porcupine raised its quills; those of the other dragon did the same. He opened his tremendous mouth, which would have been unique to his species wereit not for the other, far from intimidation, opened an identical mouth. Furious, the dragon pounced on his intrepid rival, giving himself such a greatwallop on the head against the great mirror he was left dazed. He had broken the mirror and in each shard he could see a part of his body, so he assumed that with that earth shaking hit he had split himself into pieces too.

            The knight took advantage of that moment of dizziness and surprise, and coming out from his hiding place with his loyal hound and sure lance, he slayed the dragon, as he would have slayed hundreds more if he had needed to.

            Imagine the joy and uproar of the Madrilenians, who are cheerful people, when they saw the Knight of the Fish arrive carrying the princess on horseback, happy as a lark, and the dragon tied by the tail pulled by the spirited steed, who did so with such a proud and amusing air as if the tail were the cloak of a Knightly Order.

            It was collectively agreed that such a feat could not be repaid to the Knight of the Fish except with the pale hand of the princess; and there was a wedding, there was a banquet, there were bullfights and jousting, and I came and went and no one gave me a hard time.

Sant Jordi (San Jorge/Saint George) in Montserrat, Spain

[1]Fernán Caballero notes: If the etymology of this name does not reveal any devout religious sentiment, nor a lovely poetic idea, as usually occurs in these popular inspirations; it at least proves one thing, and that is that the Spanish, whom the biblical English societies qualify as ignorant of religious materials, know from memory the Holy Gospel and could go teach those who accuse them of ignorance with lively voices.

Si bien la etimología de este nombre no encierra en sí ningún devote sentimiento religioso, ni tampoco una bella idea poética, como suele suceder en estas inspiraciones populares, prueba al menos una cosa, y es que los españoles aquienes califican las sociedades bíblicas inglesas de ignorantes en materias religiosas saben de memoria el Santo Evangelio y podrían ir a enseñárselo de viva voz a los que les acusan de ignorantes.

(Saint Peter is the patron saint of fishermen.)

[2]a white marble statue in the Puerta del Sol which has, despite the history of multiple incarnations of fountains in the same place, stood there since the early 17th Century

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